Jimmy Wayne Reflects on Emotional Journey
Jimmy Wayne sat on the edge of his bed on the second floor of his townhouse outside of Nashville December 31 with his bedroom lights off. Outside his window, fireworks lit up the night sky. While he should have been celebrating the new year, he was somber and alone, packing what essential items he would need for the 1,700-mile trek across America he was about to embark upon in an effort to raise awareness of the issue of teen homelessness.
"It was kind of a sad moment," Jimmy tells The Boot. "A lot of thoughts were going on in my head about what I was getting ready to do, about where I'd come from, and why I was doing this ... thinking about all the homeless kids out there that were probably sitting outside right now watching fireworks, too."
The next morning, Jimmy loaded up his car with his Marmot gear and tent, and drove to Monroe Harding -- a facility in Nashville that cares for foster youth. Little did he know upon his arrival there that the journey he was about to embark on would last seven months and leave him emotionally and physically drained.
Jimmy arrived in Phoenix, Ariz. on Saturday, July 31, bringing the first portion of project Meet Me Halfway to an end. Throughout the long months he spent on foot, Jimmy battled frigid winter temperatures, blistering desert heat, became a victim of theft, and suffered a broken foot just five miles shy of the finish line! But it's the positive memories he cherishes most. Along the way, the singer met numerous people who helped shape his journey into one he will never forget. He also found something he had lost over the 12 years he's spent in Nashville -- himself.
Nineteen days after his arrival back home in Nashville, Jimmy set out along the route he walked -- this time driving -- to reminisce about where project Meet Me Halfway took shape. The Boot tagged along as he relived this personal, triumphant journey.
"I remember the morning I started the walk and was making this drive," Jimmy said as he drove down Granny White Pike in Nashville. "I was late, as usual. They say the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. [laughs] I was running about ten minutes late. I was actually filming this drive all the way from the house so I have it on tape. There were some thoughts of 'what am I doing?' It's that adrenaline that you're thinking, 'OK ... I'm going to do this walk,' but the reality kicks in and it's like, 'Uh oh ... I'm getting ready to do what?' But there was no turning back because it was the morning of."
As we pulled into the driveway of Monroe Harding, Jimmy snapped a picture of the facility's sign to send out to his 19,000 followers on Twitter. "I remember walking out of this driveway right here carrying this bag on my back that I had never really tried out. I wasn't even fifty yards from [Monroe Harding]. I stopped right in here somewhere and said, 'Oh no! [laughs] This bag is heavy!' I knew I was going to have to keep going because there was no way that I could not keep going.
"It was so cold ... especially because I had not practiced," Jimmy explained as he continued down the two-lane Harding Place, which looked much different than the last time he was here in the dead of winter. "I slept outside like one night, but it was OK because I could get up, go in the house, get some coffee, get some snacks or whatever I needed. [laughs] I was like, 'This is going to be easy!' My tent was outside ... it had a light blinking in it ... I'd go inside and use the bathroom ... walk around the house to get warmed up ... go back outside and get in my tent."
The reality of what he was setting out to do didn't take long to sink in. "I remember walking up the back roads and seeing fireworks laying on the side of the road," Jimmy recalled. "That feeling of the reality of it all was kicking in. There I was; here I am."
As we rolled up on Hillsboro Pike -- the first major intersection Jimmy crossed that cold morning of January 1 -- a smile spread across his face. "All the people in the cars were staring at me. I felt like, 'Oh, this is embarrassing!' Here I was with my trekking poles, my bag and a black wind-guard covering my face. I looked like a weirdo walking through this uppity section of town."
Not long after veering off onto Highway 70 West, Jimmy pulled up on the second intersection where the initial reaction from people at that time was more of the same. Another soft smile appeared on his handsome face as he pointed across the road at the Hardee's in Bellevue. "This was the first place I stopped," Jimmy said as he switched lanes to pull into the parking lot. "I went to Hardee's and got a chicken fillet sandwich ... and that is what we are getting ready to do ... stop and get a chicken fillet sandwich. We've got to experience it!"
As he waited on our to-go order, he once again pulled out his phone to tweet our whereabouts as we took a "walk" down memory lane. "I can't believe I walked this far the first day. That's a long way," he said with amazement as he bit into his sandwich, which brought back even more memories. "I think a lot of people were worried and wondering what I was doing when I left. They were wondering when I was going to turn around. I think they thought I was going to stop."
But Jimmy kept walking.
Highway 70 narrowed, leaving very little space on the shoulder of the road where Jimmy did his walking. "Right here is where it hit me that I should have at least driven through here to see what the terrain was like. I didn't do that either. There was no preparation for this at all. I was walking on the treadmill and going to the park and walking, but nothing like this."
Jimmy knows the little amount of preparation that he put into his walk was probably all for the best. "If I had known what to expect, it might have deterred me from doing it. I just wanted to go into it not knowing. It's like the music business. If you knew then what you know now, you might have never gotten into it. You've got to go into it blindly and give it all you've got."
Every night of his walk, Jimmy logged his memories of the day in his journal which he has not looked at since writing, revealing that he's not ready to open the emotional flood gate just yet. "It's just so damn hard. It doesn't seem like it would be, but it is. I walked this and slept outside. I haven't been through here since the walk. It's draining. We're people. It's tough.
"The first part of this journey, there was a lot to think about," he said softly. "I hadn't really primed the well, so to speak, in many years. I had tons of depression built up. For the first time in 10 years, I was doing something that I couldn't put into words. I was really alone. You're not alone when you're on the road [touring]. You're not alone when you're at home in your nice house. You're alone when you're out here walking on this road and living outside. That's alone. Then you start thinking about everything. I went from the [Brad] Paisley tour where people were taking pictures to walking out here and no one really speaks to you. Being alone was different. I felt kind of deserted in some ways. I was still going through that transition period ... last night I was in a warm house, and tonight I'm not."
Jimmy pointed to a now overgrown field off the side of the road and explained that is where he set up camp his first night of the walk. That night he also learned a valuable lesson which made the rest of the journey a little easier. "I thought I could walk until 4:30 when the sun was going down in the winter time. I learned very fast you can't walk until the sun starts going down and set your tent up because it goes down so fast, you're left in the dark putting your tent up. The next day, I stopped at 3:30 and started putting up my tent. So when you're in bed at 6 o'clock in the evening, and it's dark, you're like dang ... [laughs] you're an old man here!"
As we ventured into the third day of his journey, Jimmy remarked that this was the point where the loneliness was really taking its toll. "I just felt so far away from home. I was getting really depressed, and it was cold as hell," he said as we drove over a bridge which he remembered being frozen solid back in January. "It was so cold that the rocks were frozen. Everything crunched when I stepped on it."
Jimmy pulled into Collins Food Mart, a place where he spent countless hours getting warm and charging his cell phone. "The windchill factor was like 15 below. It was extremely cold when I walked through here. I was freezing to death. It was the coldest I had ever been in my life."
The store's owner, Joan Johnson, immediately recognized Jimmy as he walked back through the store doors sporting his air-boot cast that he is still wearing to protect his broken foot. "That's kind of cool to meet somebody who remembers," Jimmy said as we left the food mart.
Before he reached his car, Jimmy spotted a picnic table outside the store that he remembered well. "That picnic table is where I put my backpack and my trekking poles. That's the thing about a small town ... nothing changes. That picnic table is still in the same spot."
Just a few miles from Collins Food Mart is where Jimmy set up camp his third night of the walk. He pulled off onto the shoulder of the road and parked his SUV. On January 4, Jimmy packed up his gear, but left behind his empty root beer bottles. "I have been wanting to go back to see if those are still here," Jimmy said with a smile as he made his way through the overgrown field. "There it is ... there's where my tent was."
Through the tangled weeds and brush, Jimmy spotted two of the three root beer bottles exactly where he left them, while the third had been recently crushed by a tractor plowing parts of the field. Next to the bottles were other items Jimmy left behind that cold winter morning including the wrappers to his hand warmers and a plastic bag with the first letter left for him on the side of the road.
"How about that? We came out and found it!" Jimmy beamed as he tweeted photos. "I can't believe this stuff lasted in the woods for seven months. That really blows me away. It's pretty exciting. I'm rediscovering. It's kind of like a treasure hunt! I've often wondered about these bottles the whole trip ... wondering if this stuff was still here or if somebody's stumbled across it."
Back in the car, Jimmy unfolded the damp letter which read: Jimmy – You're doing this! Thank you for letting us join you at the kick-off – was awesome to feel the excitement of the day. You keep walking and we'll keep praying! From a family that loves you very much!
"They didn't even put who it was from," Jimmy said as he gazed at the note as if it was the first time he'd seen it. "That's just pretty emotional because you just remember it ... You can't believe it. I don't even know what to say. It's just so freakin' wild!"
Back on Highway 70 heading toward Nashville, Jimmy began to whistle the tune of the first song he's written about project Meet Me Halfway. "It just has so much significance right now," he said. "I still can't believe that I actually walked from Nashville to Phoenix. When I'm talking about it, it just seems like somebody else. I think that this walk would humble anybody. It takes a special person to do it -- a different person -- and I understand that. There are not a lot of people who would go and do that for seven long months. I ask myself the question sometimes ... is that normal? Probably not, so what made me do that? Well it was conviction and it was guilt.
"I heard someone say that Indians used to put themselves through so much torture, and it was a healing to get rid of all that selfishness and all those demons or whatever," he continued. "I think that humbling yourself down is one of the hardest things to do. Whether or not I am religious, I am spiritual. I feel conviction that I am not doing what I should be doing. I have a guilty conscience. I just felt like I hadn't done anything to give back."
Jimmy admits that adjusting to being back home has not been easy. For seven months, he woke up every morning and slipped into his walking clothes which he misses. "There's just something about once you get in the routine of doing this sort of thing ... you just miss it. I sure missed writing music, so I'm glad to be back because of that. I'm glad I have something to write about instead of trying to make up stuff. Once again I'm inspired. It was like a seven-month baptism. I'm full of ideas and full of fire. I can't wait to be able to sing these songs and tell people about my experience through song. You don't get the experience that I got unless you are physically walking and your shoes are on the road every step of the way. I'm going to be able to share my story for the rest of my life. No one can take that away from me because I built that myself from my experience, and it's mine. As long as I've got a voice, I'm going to tell my story. The only person that can stop me today is me.
"In some ways we can be homeless, and I'm not just talking about shelter; I'm talking spiritually or mentally feel so lost and caught up," Jimmy added. "There were some parts of this walk where it felt like home. It felt good. Emotionally and mentally, I don't want to get back to that place I was before I left. I want to stay in this place in my life where I've found that piece of mind, and I've found out who I really am."
Jimmy knows in his heart that project Meet Me Halfway does not end in Phoenix. He will continue to spread the message through song, through his live show, or from the back roads of America. "I'm doing exactly what I said I was going to do from the day I walked into Nashville," Jimmy said as he continued to whistle. "I'm going to take my music, and I'm going to give back. That's been my mission. My first hit song was 'Put Your Hand in Mine' [recorded by Tracy Byrd] about a kid and his dad. Then I started writing songs like 'I Love You This Much' because my mission has always been on track. I know where I'm supposed to be, and I'm just trying to get my story out there.
"They say that your talent is God's gift to you; what you do is your gift back to Him. I think how He thanks me is when a kid comes up and says thanks for walking across America for me. And that right there ... there's nothing like it."